As soon as I rounded the corner on to Baring Street on Wednesday afternoon, the jazz-infused notes of Teddy Pendergrass’ “When Somebody Loves You Back,” woke up my groove thing. I was in the right place.
So I boogied my way down the tree-lined block in Powelton and joined more than 300 hot and sweaty folks spilling out of the mansion onto the front porch and into the backyard of Akwaaba Philadelphia.
They arrived in their bold-hued summer finest to glimpse what will be the only African American-owned and -operated bed-and-breakfast in Philadelphia.
The B and B’s owner and a former editor of Essence magazine, Monique Greenwood promised us last week not only would she have a portion of the three-story, 5,000-square-foot mansion complete, she’d unveil the inn’s Philly-centric theme.
And it is — drumroll, please: The Sound of Philadelphia.
“I knew about my girl Jill [Scott] and, of course, the legendary Roots,” Greenwood said to the crowd as many people sipped red sangria to keep cool. “But I was doing lots of research and there is so much good music that comes out of Philadelphia: Teddy P., the Blue Notes, the Stylistics, the O’Jays …”
Show me the lie.
As of Wednesday, three of the six Akwaaba suites were complete, including “Like It’s Golden,” a plush, platinum shout-out to one of Scott’s most popular songs, complete with sunshine-yellow bedding; “Blue Note,” a cerulean nod to the The Sound of Philadelphia’s OG’s like Pendergrass and McFadden & Whitehead.
Also checked off the done list is the rose-colored “Itchy Kitchy” suite that takes its name directly from the suggestive lyrics in Labelle’s 1974 hit, “Lady Marmalade.” If you can believe it, some people actually didn’t know about the song’s not-so implied meaning. There was some lighthearted chitchat around whether or not Greenwood would change the name. But, why? It’s is a bed-and-breakfast, after all.
By the time Akwaaba’s first overnight guests arrive in August, the three other suites will be “The Roots Retreat” in honor of the legendary Roots crew; “Swoon,” a sleeping space named in honor of deep-throated R&B love songs; and the “Neo Soul” room that Greenwood says, will be dedicated to the jazzy R&B tunes of Musiq Soulchild, Bilal and Floetry.
Greenwood’s quick turnaround of the $1.2 million home was nothing short of a miracle. When I first visited Akwaaba two weeks ago, it still had all of its previous Spruce Hill Manor flavor. Janet Reitano, who ran that bed-and-breakfast for more than 10 years, was still packing up her Victorian china and ornate furniture.
But on Wednesday, the place was transformed. All this work is in service of making the space welcoming to everyone, especially African Americans.
This was not lost on the visitors. Some of whom were longtime Akwaaba fans. Many, however, were longtime Philadelphians who fondly remembered when Baring Street was a part of a thriving African American community back in the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s.
They talked among themselves in low whispers about a time before the homes of their grandparents and older aunts and uncles fell into neglect, a time before higher taxes forced the older relatives who remained to leave. This was a time before the area was gentrified within an inch of its life. To them, Akwaaba brings a sense of excitement and possibility.
“I’m so glad she’s here,” said Lynne Garrett, who grew up in the West Philadelphia neighborhood, once called The Bottom. “It brings a sense of hope. Many of us can’t afford houses in these neighborhoods anymore,” Garrett paused. “I’m so glad she’s here.”
Akwaaba Philadelphia is at 3709 Baring St. For more information, log on to the website at www.akwaaba.com.